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Sacks of Cash for People Who Aren't Running

Lt. Gov. Rick Perry raised an average of more than $20,000 every day, including weekends, from the first of July through the end of the year. That's in a cycle when he's not on the ballot.

Lt. Gov. Rick Perry raised an average of more than $20,000 every day, including weekends, from the first of July through the end of the year. That's in a cycle when he's not on the ballot.

Okay, the late train was still running. Some people and groups, like the Texas Farm Bureau, for instance, didn't write their checks in that window between the 1998 election and the legislative session, and had to catch up later. It's also an oddity of history that Perry is a sitting Lite Guv -- always a good position from which to raise money -- and perhaps the next governor, since everyone in Texas GOP politics seems to be measuring curtains in Washington, D.C., for the second Bush Administration, and Perry is the guy in line to take over the job in the middle office of the Pink Building.

All that said, raising $3.7 million in a six-month period that's at least two years from the politico's next election is quite a feat. In addition to giving him plenty of money for new running shoes, the haul has the strategic effect of putting a catch in the throats of people like Democrat John Sharp and Republican Kay Bailey Hutchison who might be eyeing the Governor's Mansion.

Perry raised $25,000 or more from each of more than four dozen donors. He reported 110 individual contributions of $10,000 or more. He spent $597,191, but that leaves a balance of $3.1 million for this reporting period. He paid his fundraiser almost $80,000, a bargain considering the haul. Perry's biggest contribution came from M/M J.L. Huffines of Lewisville, who gave $75,000.

The reports came in sporadically, since a lot of pols mail in their finance stuff and since a state holiday (Martin Luther King Jr. Day) shortened the week. Not all of them are in yet, and not everyone is crowing about the numbers. Also, as they trickle in, it'll be apparently that some House and Senate candidates haven't really started raising money. But a lot of people are crowing, and the numbers provide an early (and therefore, probably inaccurate) look at how some of the Republican statewide elected officials compare with one another. The numbers also reflect contributors' interest in the various offices, regardless of their like or dislike for the occupants.

• Attorney General John Cornyn reported raising $1.35 million and spending $247,191. His detailed report wasn't available at the Texas Ethics Commission at our deadline.

• Comptroller Carole Keeton Rylander raised $582,725 and spent $581,708.

• Land Commissioner David Dewhurst brought in $490,000 and spent $444,201.

• Railroad Commissioner Michael Williams raised $174,679 and spent $87,340. He had 212 contributors; we know that because he listed only one contributor on each of his report's 212 pages. Williams also took out a personal loan of $30,000, and had three contributors who gave more than $10,000. The report from his opponent, Andy Draughn of Austin, wasn't available at our deadline.

• Railroad Commissioner Charles Matthews, who expected an opponent for a while last year but wound up unopposed for reelection, raised $247,425 and spent $202,109. He ended the period with outstanding loans totaling $202,862.

• Railroad Commissioner Tony Garza, who's not up this year, raised $58,245 and spent $71,876.

• Agriculture Commissioner Susan Combs pulled in $139,249 and spent $29,778. She had four contributions of $10,000.

• Supreme Court Justice Al Gonzales raised $202,090 and ended the period with $256,100 on hand (a number that non-judicial candidates in Texas don't have to report).

Federal reports for the last six months of 1999 at the end of the month.

A Baker's Dozen for Only $32,000

This particular variation on "The Check's in the Mail" had never occurred to us: San Antonio's special election was a one-vote wonder in favor of Mike Villareal, until the mail arrived three days after the election and two more votes -- from a military couple registered in San Antonio but stationed elsewhere -- arrived and tilted the race to Robbie Vazquez, again by one vote. It'll be the answer to a trivia question in the political future, but the flip makes no meaningful difference: There were 13 write-in votes recorded, which means that, by a very narrow margin, nobody got the 50 percent of the vote that's required to win. That means a runoff election on Saturday, February 12 for a term in the Texas Legislature that will end on the first day of the next legislative session. That'll cost Bexar County about $32,000 unless one of the candidates decides to drop out before January 31. The regular election, starting with the March 14 primary between these same two candidates, will determine who will represent the district in the next session of the Legislature.

The whole mess is made possible by one of the zillions of loopholes and dead ends and cul-de-sacs in Texas election law: Had this been a regular election, write-in votes would only have been counted if the candidates being written in had registered their names before the election. But this wasn't a regular election. This race will fill the unexpired term of Leticia Van de Putte in HD-115, a post she resigned after winning a special election to fill the seat left open by the resignation of the late Sen. Gregory Luna, D-San Antonio. In special elections, write-in votes count even when the candidates being written in did not register. Here's another oddball clause from the election laws: If you throw your unmarked ballot in the box, it's not counted. If you're emphatic about it and write "NONE" on the ballot, it counts as a write-in. Presumably, that's so Mr. None or Ms. None won't get cheated out of a write-in victory, but it's strange just the same.

In Gov. George W. Bush's absence, Lt. Gov. Rick Perry canvassed the votes a few days after the election. Your final score was Vazquez, 1,470 votes (49.79 percent), Villareal, 1,469 votes (49.76 percent), various write-ins, 13 (0.44 percent). The San Antonio Express-News summed it up with this headline over a Rick Casey column on the election: "Meaningless votes foil useless election."

Add These to the Legislative To Do List

The Texas Freedom Network, the Texas left's counter to the state's most conservative political movement, will focus on children's issues for the next couple of years. They had been primaryly, though not solely, involved in trying to knock down efforts to allow public money to pay for private schools through vouchers. They've been retooling a bit and will spend their time on child care, health care for children, violence against children and public education. They're holding confabs in Dallas (February 2) and Houston (February 17) to drum up support and interest.

• The Texas State Teachers Association will be asking lawmakers for health insurance during the regular session that starts in a year. TSTA wants the state to pick up the tab for school employees' insurance, and it's a hefty tag: The group estimates the annual cost at $1.5 billion, or $3 billion a biennium. One of the interim committees in the House is already studying the issue.

• Likewise, keep this on your list of active volcanoes: The state and the nursing homes that serve state-supported clients reached a deal, but did so at about the same time that the second-largest nursing home chain in the U.S. said it would seek bankruptcy. That's the third big chain to tank in the last several months, and many in the industry blame low federal and state government reimbursement rates for the financial trouble. State officials here say they gave the industry the increase the nursing home people were seeking, but in the last week, they agreed to increase payments by about 5.8 percent over last year's (they had previously agreed to a 3.7 percent increase).

We Few, We Happy Few, We Band of Brothers

Here's an experiment to watch: Can a candidate raise money with a fund-raising letter signed by four prominent Democrats if the letter was sent after two of the signers disavowed said candidate's campaign? Stay tuned for an answer next July 15, when the next campaign finance reports come out.

We wrote last month about complaints from various Democrats around the state that one of their own, Rep. Domingo Garcia, D-Dallas, was recruiting Hispanic candidates to run against non-Hispanic Democratic incumbents. After we poked around and then wrote about it, two signers of a "Friends of Domingo Garcia" letter hit the eject button. But even with letters of disavowal floating around, Garcia sent out more fundraising letters. Once again, he used the signatures of U.S. Rep. Martin Frost, D-Dallas, former HUD Secretary and San Antonio Mayor Henry Cisneros, former Comptroller John Sharp, and Houston businessman Paul Hobby, who lost the last election for comptroller.

Frost has done commercials with Garcia and worked on local political projects with him in the past. But he sent him a letter in December blasting the statehouse member for "divisive and misdirected efforts." He ended it by telling Garcia "I cannot allow you the use of my name for purposes of endorsement on any campaign communication or any future fundraising appeals." Hobby's letter to Garcia expressed the Houstonian's hope that our original story was incorrect, but went on to say: "If, however, it is true, please circulate this letter to your mailing list indicating my disapproval, and remove my name from any letters you circulate in the future."

Christmas came and went. The New Year began. Two more weeks passed. And then, Garcia sent another fundraising letter to Democrats around the state, extolling his virtues and signed by the same four Democrats whose names were on the Garcia materials before the flap flared in December.

Garcia, who didn't return our calls (now, or in December, when we first attempted it) sent a fax this week disavowing the rumors. "... Only one Democrat in Dallas has an opponent, which is a matter I had nothing to do with," he writes. "I would appreciate it if you would clear the record and state that the rumors were false." Frost's letter to Garcia was written before anyone printed anything about the recruiting efforts. A spokesman for Frost says the congressman hasn't retracted the letter or any part of it and still doesn't want his name on Garcia's materials.

It is demonstrably true that if there was an effort to recruit Hispanic opponents for incumbent Dallas Democrats, it was largely unsuccessful. Reps. Yvonne Davis, Helen Giddings, Terri Hodge, Jesse Jones, and Steve Wolens are all unopposed. Rep. Dale Tillery, D-Mesquite, has a Republican opponent named Tony Aguilar. And Rep. Harryette Ehrhardt, whose targeting prompted the original updraft on this blaze, drew a primary opponent, Elsie Tovar, and if she survives that, a general election opponent, Don Wolenta. Garcia will face a late entry: Diana Flores, a Democrat on the Dallas County Community College District Board, will challenge him in March. The winner will face Republican Monty Weddell in November.

A quick sidebar: Some of the leaders of the Tejano Democrats, a statewide group that emphatically stayed away from any recruiting efforts, quietly talked about -- and quietly killed -- a resolution that would have barred members of the group from running against incumbents. The idea never made it to the floor of the group's recent convention in Houston.

Counting Texans

The U.S. Census Bureau says the population of the country will reach 404 million in 50 years -- up from 273 million last year -- and will double by 2100, to 571 million. The nation's Hispanic population is expected to triple in the next 50 years, and in only five years, that will be the largest minority group in the U.S. The African-American population will grow 70 percent over the next five decades, and the Anglo population will grow much more slowly, by about nine percent. By 2050, there will be twice as many foreign-born people in the U.S. The number of people over age 65 will grow by 137 percent, to 82 million, with most of the increase hitting in the years 2011 through 2030, when the baby boom hits the mid-60s. The number of children (under 18) will grow to 95.7 million.

Money for Prison Guards

There are seven prison units in Texas House District 11. There is a growing uproar over the low pay given to Texas prison guards. And it's an election year. Read that how you'd like, but here's one translation: The guards' push for a pay raise might have some steam, and the early heat is coming out of the East Texas area that features a lot of prisons and two hot legislative races.

The first two shots come from two candidates who have the same political consultant, Bryan Eppstein of Fort Worth. Kenneth Durrett, a Republican running for the House seat now occupied by Rep. Todd Staples, R-Palestine, sent Gov. George W. Bush a letter asking for a special session to win pay raises for corrections officers. That's not gonna happen, but it got him some attention.

Next came Staples himself, who's on the House Appropriations Committee, and who is running for the Texas Senate. He proposes speeding up spending in the two-year state budget, borrowing from next year's budget to pay for pay raises for guards starting in June. The guards, like all state employees, got $100 per month raises in the current budget, and Staples wants the Legislative Budget Board to double that, starting in June. He also proposes paying guards for overtime.

The current practice is to award them with compensatory time, which gives them time off for overtime worked but doesn't put any money in their pockets. The pay raises would cost about $50 million for the remainder of the biennium. Staples says the state could start with money budgeted for pay that has not been used because of the shortage of 1,700 people in the prison workforce. He says the LBB could agree to spend the money now, then come back at the beginning of the next legislative session to make an emergency appropriation to cover the amount borrowed from the future.

That Troublesome Local Property Tax

Getting a local school district to follow the state's direction on finances is like teaching a cat to retrieve. It can be done, but it requires an unusual cat. Back when the Legislature was fiddling with school finance -- in an attempt to increase the state's share of education costs and to cut taxes at the same time -- the Legislative Budget Board estimated local school spending would total $9.86 billion. That's the amount the local districts would raise locally to spend on education, the LBB estimated.

The early estimate, as it turns out, was off by $1.47 billion. Local tax authorities send their information to the comptroller's office, which rolls it all up into a report to try to get a statewide picture. That report says that calendar year 1998 school district taxes totaled $11.33 billion, accounting for almost 60 percent of all local property tax revenues in Texas. The ratio of local to state spending on public education, instead of floating closer and closer to 50-50, slid back towards its 1995 low point, when the state was spending 45 cents for every dollar spent on public education, with the rest coming from local property taxes. That slide occurred even while state spending was increasing, because local school taxes rose faster than number-crunchers estimated. Still to come: numbers from the second half of 1999, in the wake of the latest changes in school finance. Preliminary numbers on school tax rates, property values and tax revenues will be out in the next month or so. Based on preliminary reports to the state, most local districts raised taxes again this year in spite of increases in state spending.

Airing Out Their Differences

The Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission will travel the state at the end of the month to see what people think about proposed clean air rules from the agency. Environmental groups are paying attention, as are folks who don't like the new rules at all. Citizens for a Sound Economy says TNRCC's rules are the result of "outside political pressure" from "the EPA, Vice President Al Gore, and moneyed special interests" who want Texas and its governor to look bad.

The group contends Texas air is cleaner than it was five years ago -- government and media reports notwithstanding. And they say federal threats to cut off highway funding would only make the problems increase by increasing congestion on the roads. The TNRCC hearings will be held in El Paso, Austin, Longview, Irving, Dallas, Lewisville, Fort Worth, Beaumont and Houston.

Career Moves, Ballot Drops & Political Tidbits

Former Big Spring Mayor Tim Blackshear says he would lose about a third of his company's business if he's elected to the Texas House, but he also says he could make it up elsewhere. From where he's sitting, that's not a stopper. Blackshear, who resigned his job as mayor by filing to run against Rep. David Counts, D-Knox City, runs a company called Earth Co. that does contract maintenance work on Texas highways. If you're in the Legislature, you can't do business directly with the state. If he beats Counts, Blackshear would lose those contracts, which involve things like repairing guardrails, doing grading and other dirt work on shoulders and the like.

Former U.S. Sen. Bob Krueger, D-New Braunfels, has left the diplomatic ranks for Oxford, England, where he attended college. The former professor who went through the Texas political grinder and then did diplomatic stints in Burundi and Botswana is writing a book, with his wife, on their experiences in Burundi... Former Dallas Cowboy Thomas "Hollywood" Henderson is mulling a run for the Austin City Council... And former state Rep. Lloyd Criss, D-LaMarque, got tossed off the City Council there. Voters, by a 226-195 margin, removed him from office in a recall election that began when he tried to oust the city manager.

Drop that extra William Archer from the race to succeed U.S. Rep. Bill Archer, R-Houston. The other Archer, who's not related to the congressman, took his name off the ballot... David Lawrence, who signed up to run as a Republican in HD-133, pulled out. That leaves Rep. Joe Nixon, R-Houston, with no opposition in March or in November... Lawrence Dietlein, who filed to run against Rep. Mike Krusee, R-Round Rock, dropped out, saying he'll support the incumbent... Dean Kleckner, the hog farmer who lost the American Farm Bureau presidency to Bob Stallman of Texas, showed up a week later, endorsing Texas Gov. George W. Bush before the Iowa Caucuses... Signings: Hank Clements and Bill Scott have hooked up with Steve Fryar of Brownwood in HD-73 and Mary Jane Avery in HD-21. The Republican consultants will handle general and media consulting for those two challengers, who are running against Reps. Bob Turner, D-Voss, and Allan Ritter, D-Nederland, respectively.

Gotta line up the home folks, whether it's professional or geographical. Todd Staples, a Realtor, picks up the SD-3endorsement from Realtors in Montgomery County, even though his opponent, homebuilder Les Tarrance, is a member of that group. Tarrance got an endorsement of his own, winning the endorsement of the Texas Association of Builders, a statewide group with 9,700 members.

Rep. Leo Alvarado, D-San Antonio, came out of last year's special Senate election bruised and battered, but instead of pressing forward with a runoff against Leticia Van de Putte, he dropped out and wished her the best. She's now a senator, and he's getting endorsements from the fractured -- make that formerly fractured -- San Antonio delegation. Alvarado, who showed some political vulnerability in the Senate race, now has three Democratic opponents in the March primaries. But he is also carrying letters of endorsement from U.S. Rep. Ciro Rodriguez, Sens. Frank Madla and Van de Putte, Reps. John Longoria, Ruth Jones McClendon, Robert Puente, Arthur Reyna, Juan Solis and Carlos Uresti.

Texas Supreme Court Justice Nathan Hecht is up for reelection, and has a primary opponent, but he's the latest GOP officeholder to get a primary endorsement from all the other GOP statewides. He left Attorney General John Cornyn, a former fellow justice on the court, off his list, saying the AG has to appear in his court and so wasn't solicited.

In Tyler businessman Richard Harvey's latest fundraising letters, the Republican says it will cost $30,000 to $40,000 to win the Republican primary in Senate Democrat David Cain's 2nd district. Cain has raised over $200,000 so far and doesn't have a primary opponent.

Anyone want to wager on how much voice Texas has in the early stages of the presidential race? There are 33 state votes (we're including Puerto Rico) on the presidential candidates -- caucuses, primaries, what have you -- between now and the day Texans register their views on March 14.

Political People and Their Moves

U.S. District Judge George Kazen, chief judge of the Southern District of Texas, will be this year's Mr. South Texas. He'll be toasted at Laredo's annual birthday party for George Washington next month... Texas Farm Bureau President Bob Stallman won a two-year term as president of the American Farm Bureau Federation, unseating an Iowa hog farmer to become the first Texan at the top of the national organization... Former Austin American-Statesman reporter Michele Kay is returning to the paper after stints in politics, government and consulting. Kay has previously covered politics and written editorials and covered business; this time, she'll write a business column... One of the outside attorneys on the Koch Industries case was Harrison Vickers, a one-time official of the Texas Democratic Party. Vickers, along with Haynes & Boone, made $4.4 million handling the Texas piece of the multi-state settlement with the pipeline company for Attorney General John Cornyn, who inherited the contingency contracts signed by his predecessor... Texas Health Commissioner William "Reyn" Archer III has named Dr. Charles Bell as the number two exec in that giant agency. Bell is replacing Dr. Patti Patterson, who's taken a job at the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center in Lubbock. The new executive deputy commissioner has most recently been TDH's regional director in Lubbock, and before that, headed the agency's HIV and sexually transmitted diseases section... Spanked by the State Commission on Judicial Conduct: Buffalo Springs Municipal Judge Jeffery Driver, publicly admonished for continuing to assess fines in certain water district cases after the Legislature repealed the statute that authorized the penalties; District Judge Alex Gonzalez of Fort Stockton (recently retired), publicly reprimanded for hand-picking an old friend and former bailiff to be on a grand jury list, making sure he got on the panel and then selecting him as the foreman... Deaths: San Antonio lawyer Oliver Heard, a political character and sometimes controversial political player who founded a large law firm that now features the state's largest tax collection practice. He was 57.

Quotes of the Week

George W. Bush spokeswoman Karen Hughes, telling the Houston Chronicle that U.S. Sen. John McCain is getting a softer ride than her boss: "He's not the frontrunner and he's not held to the same standard of scrutiny the frontrunner is. I understand the media is human. The media likes an underdog... but I do think if you look at the standards of scrutiny, they're a little different."

Pasadena, Texas, engineer Charles Bass Urban, on why he filed to run in the state's Republican primary for president against Gov. George W. Bush: "I think I can beat him. If I didn't think I could beat him, I wouldn't have started this."

Former Texas Democratic Party Executive Director Harold Cook, explaining why he didn't check around before writing a memo saying down-ballot candidates could suffer if Al Gore is the party's nominee: "I generally find it easier to apologize later than to ask for permission in advance."

Texas Supreme Court Justice Al Gonzales, on Democrats who switched labels to run for the courts in the GOP primary: "People need to be honest with the voters. It's troubling when someone runs as a Republican but doesn't believe in the platform of the Republican Party."

Former Williamson County Constable Dennis Jaroszewski, who is seeking a new term in that job, which he resigned a little more than a year ago in a deal with prosecutors who accused him of using his work computer to look at pornography on the Internet: "So I messed up a little bit. Big damn deal."

Victor Serebriakoff, who oversaw the growth of Mensa from a group of just four people to an international group of thousands, as quoted in his obituary in The New York Times: "When I joined Mensa I thought, 'Now I am joining a bunch of very bright people; therefore everyone will agree with me.' Alas, this turned out not to be so. Then I married a member and began to learn the full extent, breadth and profundity of human disagreement."

Democratic political consultant Peck Young, on why more people don't run for school board positions: "My experience has been that one of the best ways to reduce the number of people vying for a job is to beat the crap out of the incumbent."

Texas Weekly: Volume 16, Issue 28, 24 January 2000. Copyright 2000 by Printing Production Systems, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part without written permission from the publisher is prohibited.

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